Club Vistara, the loyalty programme of Vistara, rolled out new changes today which are a mixed bag. The airline that launched commercial operations in 2015, first launched an award chart a few months after the airline launched, and at that point in time I called the award chart disappointing.
At that point in time, a Business Class Redemption would cost 4 times the price of Economy. Since then, Vistara has followed a philosophy of keeping their business class redemption prices very high as compared to Economy, and I’ve made peace with it, with the understanding that the airline does not want to encourage people to redeem for their most premium product. Perhaps that too high to redeem aspirational touch for Business Class comes from the parent Singapore Airlines, who is ferociously protecting their First Class cabin most of the times.
In 2016, the airline “relaunched” the Club Vistara programme, adding a Platinum Tier to it. The airline also got a little more generous with earning rates, but the burning was continued to be built on the older paradigm where Premium Economy would cost a little bit more than Economy, approximately 1.2 to 1.3 times of Economy, but Business Class would cost approximately 4 times.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Club Vistara was adding benefits as they went abroad. Little did I know there was a complete overhaul coming to the programme in a typical Friday newsdrop fashion on a Saturday evening. Most of these changes are valid from August 6, 2019.
Rescheduling Fee Waivers for Gold and Platinum Tier
From August 6, 2019 onwards, CV Platinum and Gold members both will be able to make changes to their existing booking at no additional charge. Till so far, it was a benefit only valid for Club Vistara Platinum members who used to get one free change. Now, Platinum members get 2 changes per booking while Gold Members can make one change per booking for free (not valid for other people on the same ticket). Any fare difference would still be payable.
For Platinum members, they can use the benefit for travel within India and outside the country as well, and for Gold Members only for travel within India, up to 24 hours prior to departure. The benefit is only usable for bookings made directly with Vistara. Not sure how the benefit worked before, so perhaps some current Platinums can chime in. [Update: Platinum Members tell me they were able to use this benefit with OTA tickets earlier as well]
Personally, I am 11/12 flights down with the Vistara Platinum Challenge, which I was largely doing for the change policy. It is a bummer that as I get on the 12th flight soon, this change sets in.
Reduced number of upgrade vouchers for qualifying for Club Vistara Elite tiers
Earlier, Club Vistara elite members used to get the following upgrade vouchers as they became elites:
- Silver: 1
- Gold: 3
- Platinum: 5
On August 6, 2019 and onwards, this policy changes. When you renew your status, you continue to get 1, 3 or 5 vouchers. But if you have newly qualified for the status as a Gold or Platinum, you get 2/3 vouchers now. So, on qualifying afresh, you get the following upgrade vouchers now:
- Silver: 1
- Gold: 2
- Platinum: 3
I think I know the genesis of this move. Vistara’s new line of thinking could be that when someone becomes a Gold, they have already received one voucher as a silver member, so they get two more and then they have three. As Platinums, similarly, on the path to qualification, the member has already received 3 vouchers, so they get another 3 and net they get 6 vouchers. In the earlier system, as a first-time Gold you would end up getting 4 vouchers in one year (1 Silver/3 Gold) and as a first-time Platinum you would get 9 Vouchers in one year (1 Silver/3 Gold/5 Platinum).
The other line of thinking could also be that Vistara, with one eye towards Air India, knows that they are sort of the preferred choice of the business traveller in India now, and with a wider network and more occupancy across all their cabins, they need to reduce the number of vouchers in circulation to be able to sell seats for revenue across cabins, or just to reduce float of vouchers which would lead to disappointed passengers as J cabin occupancy fills up.
New Upgrade Voucher use Policy including Double Upgrades
From August 6, 2019 onwards, members will also be able to make a double upgrade using their upgrade vouchers. For the longest time, the pet peeve of many a Vistara passengers has been that they can’t upgrade from Economy to Business Class, because one-class upgrade meant they could only upgrade to Premium Economy.
For flights within India, only 1 ‘One-Class Upgrade’ voucher is required to get upgraded to the next class, i.e,. from Economy to Premium Economy and Premium Economy to Business Class. To upgrade from Economy to Business Class, 2 ‘One-Class Upgrade’ vouchers will be required going forward. This closes out the loophole that was created with the induction of the 737 aircraft, where the airline was offering Economy to Business Class upgrades against one voucher due to the lack of PE Class on these planes.
For international flights, Vistara has notified the following number of vouchers required. The policy is simple. Add up the number of Vouchers for Y-PE and PE-J to make it a double upgrade.
Do I like the high number of vouchers? No. But I will repeat what I said earlier. Vistara is protecting their Business Class from redemptions and voucher upgrades by putting out a high requirement for the vouchers or points. They are basically saying the same thing they said in 2015 with this philosophy. One should buy Business Class, not upgrade into it from Economy.
Companion Lounge Access for Platinum Members
A positive change for sure, CV Platinum members are going to be entitled to bring one companion to Vistara and/or partner lounges when flying international on Vistara effective August 6, 2019. The companion should also be flying international on Vistara on the same day.
Many routes will need more points for redemptions come September 1
With a much bigger network out of Mumbai now, Vistara is changing the number of points required on many routes. Here is the current award chart, valid till August 31, 2019 and the new award chart valid from September 1, 2019 onwards.
In this context, what Vistara is doing with the new award chart is publishing it for only their direct flights. The current award chart has all sorts of permutations and combinations as well. Let us go over per zone.
- Up to 500 Miles: All the short haul redemptions up to 500 miles have been retained at the earlier published levels, which includes segments such as Mumbai – Goa and Delhi – Amritsar.
- 501 to 750 miles: The award chart continues to remain the same as earlier, except for Premium Economy, which earlier used to cost 6,000 CV points and will now cost 6500 CV Points. This impacts segments such as Mumbai – Delhi and Mumbai – Chennai.
- 751 miles to 900 miles: The redemptions for this zone start to pinch. Earlier, one would need 6,000 CV points to redeem for economy seats, which is going up to 7000 CV points, a 17% rise. Premium Economy is going up by 29% from 7000 points to 9000 CV points. The already high Business Class has been retained at 25,000 CV points. Routes such as Delhi – Hyderabad and Amritsar Mumbai will be affected by this higher change.
- 901 miles to 1200 miles: Some of India’s longest routes operated by Vistara will be in for a massive 50% change in number of points required. For instance, Delhi – Chennai which required only 7000 points in Premium Economy will now cost 10,500 CV points (50% more). In Economy, this zone would cost 6000 points but come September 1, will require 8000 points. The already high 25,000 CV points for J Class would now go up to 27,000 points. The only relief seems to come for Mumbai – Kolkata passengers who are actually getting a haircut to come into line with these prices.
- 1200 miles +: Vistara only operates one route of this stage length domestically. The Delhi – Kochi service will now require a whopping 12,000 points for Premium Economy and 30000 points for Business Class, which is a 71% jump for PE (7,000 points) and 20% jump for J (25000 points). Economy will cost 50% more, at 9,000 CV points going forward. As a by the way, this segment is being operated by an all-economy aircraft at the moment.
I put together the current vs new award chart here so that you could compare the segments of your choice. Here is a roundup of domestic segments and how prices go up.
Many routes will need more points for upgrades come September 1
With a much bigger network out of Mumbai now, Vistara is changing the number of points required on many routes for upgrades as well. Here is the current upgrade chart, valid till August 31, 2019 and the new upgrade chart valid from September 1, 2019 onwards. In terms of protecting their Business Class inventory from upgrades, Vistara has moved the number of points required to upgrade from PEY to Business Class by 80-100% on almost all routes now. Yes, you read that correct.For double upgrades to J class, it is the sum of the number of award points required for Y-PEY and PEY to J together.
Let us go over per zone.
- Up to 500 Miles: All the short haul upgrades up to 500 miles have been retained at the earlier published levels for Y to PEY, which includes segments such as Mumbai – Goa and Delhi – Amritsar. But when you want to upgrade from PEY to J, it will cost you a pretty penny more now, as in, double the earlier number of points required. For instance, Delhi – Ahmedabad was 5000 points, and now being doubled to 10000 points. For a Y to J redemption, you would need about 11000 points excluding the exceedingly small routes such as Jammu to Srinagar.
- 501 to 750 miles: The award chart now starts to move up. Economy to PEY will need 20% more points on many of these routes, and PEY to Business will need 13,500 points now, from 7,000 earlier. So that hits hard the most at 93% more points required. This impacts segments such as Mumbai – Delhi and Mumbai – Chennai.
- 751 miles to 900 miles: The upgrades for this zone start to pinch as well. Earlier, one would need 9000 CV points to upgrade PEY to J, which is going up to 16000 CV points, a 78% rise. Even Economy to Premium Economy upgrades will go up by 33%. Routes such as Delhi – Hyderabad and Amritsar Mumbai will be affected by this higher change.
- 901 miles to 1200 miles: Some of India’s longest routes operated by Vistara will be in for a massive 67-83% change in number of points required for upgrades. For instance, Delhi – Goa which required only 9000 points for Premium Economy – Business Class will now cost 16,500 CV points (83% more). The only relief seems to come for Mumbai – Kolkata passengers who are actually getting a haircut to come into line with these prices.
- 1200 miles +: Vistara only operates one route of this stage length domestically. The Delhi – Kochi service will now require a whopping 18000 points for Premium Economy to J.
The new chart comes into play on September 1, 2019, so you can still book for travel and get a confirmed award ticket or upgrade by August 31, 2019 on the older rates.
The wholesale changes of Club Vistara come to me as a culmination of four different things happening at the same time. First, Vistara has now a two-class aircraft in the fleet as well, which meant upgrades were going cheap and the leak needed to be plugged and the programme made to fit all scenarios across the fleet. Second, Jet Airways’ going away from the market means Vistara has the business travel market all to themselves and the airline would prefer to sell revenue tickets to these passengers in J class over have them upgrade into this cabin. Air India is a shabby product and Vistara knows the market prefers them.
Third, by adding perks for elites, Vistara again shows that they believe in a good loyalty programme, not necessarily a good reward programme. The entire focus of this exercise seems to limit J cabin away from any sort of upgrades or awards by adding more points required, more vouchers required and less vouchers in circulation, given they are now in a 2-way fight with Air India and the Goliath named JetPrivilege is rendered toothless in this situation. And last but not the least, Vistara is going international, so they adjusted everything for this new chapter in their life as well.
What do you make of the new changes to Club Vistara and how do you intend to interact with the programme going forward?